Skincare Absorption Pt. 2: Our skin is the largest organ in our bodies. So, it makes sense for us to be vigilant about what is in our skincare products to take good care of our skin. It is our first line of defence against infection, and it helps protect our internal organs from sunlight, temperature extremes, and chemicals. Our skin plays an important role in protecting the inside of our bodies from external contaminants. But skin can absorb some ingredients in skincare products.
The stronger our skins barrier function is the more we can use our skins own natural defence system to fight all environmental damage. Certainly, sun damage, poor cosmetics, perfumes and harsh soaps can often compromise our skin on our face and hands. We understand that we can protect our skins barrier to support optimal health by maintaining a healthy diet with a variety of fruit, vegetables and healthy omega 3 fats; Add to that, reducing our stress levels, drinking water and staying away from aggravating factors such as caffeine, smoking and alcohol. We also have science backed research showing that when topically applied, the right ingredients in our skincare routine can positively influence our skins barrier function. It leads to repair and strengthen the skin.
Obviously, we do not want harmful chemicals penetrating our skin. But what about substances that we do want our skin to absorb? If you are putting creams, serums, lotions, and the like on your skin, it is likely you’re doing it to try to help nourish, preserve, and protect your skin. The skin need to successfully absorb many of those substances and penetrate the correct layer to work.
Therefore, it is important to know exactly what your skin can absorb and how it affects both your skin and the rest of your body.
Did you know the skin can absorb these?
If you have ever smoked or known someone who has, chances are you have seen nicotine patches. The patch releases nicotine into the body when applied, so that the person attempting to quit smoking does not crave cigarettes as strongly. Smoking cessation is not the only use for transdermal patches, though. Pain medications, hormones, anti-nausea medicine, blood pressure medicine, and even medicine for Alzheimer’s disease can all be given through patches applied on the skin.
Transdermal patches work by releasing a small amount of medication into the body over a period of time. The medicine travels through the skin into the bloodstream and then to the targeted area of treatment. Skin so readily absorb some medicines, like hormones, that they carry warnings. Testosterone patches and gels, for example, emphasize the danger of women and children coming into even accidental contact with the medicine.
Our skin does provide some protection against chemicals. But we are learning more and more about just how many chemicals can penetrate our skin. For example, the CDC states that testing for workplace exposure to chemicals has typically focused on inhalation, and we have only recently learned that exposure through the skin is sometimes the most significant pathway. Scientists have found that the skin can absorb chemicals without being noticed and can cause toxicity.
Chemicals in your skin care products
However, chemical exposure is not just limited to the workplace. We can be exposed to harmful chemicals through our environment, the products we use at home, and yes, the substances in our skincare routine. It is important to remember that not all chemicals are bad, but we do want to make sure anything we put on our skin is free of chemicals that could harm us.
We are fortunate that governmental agencies, like Australia’s National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) work to regulate our cosmetics/skincare products and keep them free from harmful contaminants. That’s important because by some estimates, cosmetic-use results in women putting around 515 chemicals on their skin every day.
Some chemicals, like triclosan, are currently considered safe at low concentrations but dangerous at higher ones. NICNAS has capped the acceptable level of triclosan at 0.3% for cosmetics/skincare. Any cosmetic/skincare containing more than 0.3% triclosan must have a label containing the word “poison”. Research on triclosan and other chemicals is an ongoing process; so, guidelines continually evolve.
Knowing the ingredients of skincare products helps you make an informed decision about whether you feel safe using those products on your skin.
The Good Elements in Skin care products
When we choose to apply skincare products, we are hoping for a desired effect. It may be moisturizing, anti-aging, protection from UV rays, enhancing our appearance through makeup, or applying fragrance for a pleasant smell. The ability of our skin to absorb key elements of those products is what determines whether we will experience the desired effect. Therefore, let us look at some specific ingredients and formulations.
Some Serums are made of small molecules (nano-particles) that are quickly absorbed by your skin. They do not contain moisturizing ingredients and often contain no oils at all. This allows a high concentration of active ingredients like peptides and antioxidants to be quickly absorbed into your skin. That is great if you are looking for a product that targets the deeper layers of skin, and often they will deliver results. The question we need to ask is do we want skincare products in our bloodstream? If you have skin conditions like rosacea or eczema that weaken the skin barrier, you may find these serums to be too quickly absorbed, and they may result in irritation.
In contrast, creams and lotions are designed to sit on top of the skin. They form a barrier that locks moisture in, and active ingredients penetrate the skin more slowly than is the case with serums.
Salicylic acid is an ingredient you may see in a lot of skin care products. It removes dead skin, and because it can penetrate the oil glands around hair follicles, it also helps reduce acne.
Active 16+ Manuka honey is our favourite ingredient to use in our skincare. Scientifically proven Manuka has humectant and emollient properties. These draw moisture to our skins cells, soften our skin, protect our skin from cracking (dryness) and moisture loss by improving our skins barrier function. Active 16+ Manuka Honey has both hydrogen peroxide and methylglyoxal (MG) components. Hydrogen peroxide gives the honey its antibiotic quality. MG is the antibacterial quality, protecting our skin and stimulating the production of special cells that can repair tissue damaged by infection.
Chances are you have seen retinol listed as an ingredient if you have thought about purchasing anti-aging products. Retinol is made from Vitamin A, which has a very smaller molecular structure. That means the molecules can pass through the skin and reach the deeper layers that contain collagen and elastin. It helps improve fine lines and wrinkles, pigmentation, hydration, and skin texture. At Au Natural Skinfood we use plant-based Retinol, this is considered to be natural vitamin A with all the benefits and no side effects, using plant based Retinol is gaining traction with clean beauty brands and in the natural beauty circles. https://www.aunaturalskinfood.com/shop/products/dr-au-concentrates-facial-anti-aging-oil-level-2/ (Need Link)
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is another ingredient that is often found in anti-aging products. It is both water- and oil-soluble, so it can penetrate all parts of the cell. This allows it to work as a potent antioxidant to repair damage from free radicals.
Water is one of the main and certainly essential ingredients we put on our skin, and it is vital to moisturizers since that is exactly what we’re hoping to replenish when we use them. Fortunately, water is easily and safely absorbed by the outer layer of our skin, but we need oils to hold the water in and keep it from evaporating. Many products also contain emollients to help oils and water blend together providing a smooth feel to the skin.
These are just a few of the common ingredients you may find in your skincare products. Since each skincare product contains an average of 15 to 50 ingredients, we can’t possibly list them all. A good rule of thumb is to choose products where the companies are transparent about their ingredients. Be informed and know what your skincare products contains and what the ingredients are used for. When you understand what your skin absorbs and how it affects your body, you can make knowledge-based decisions about which skincare products you want to purchase and use.
Au Natural is committed to helping you to create new healthy skincare routines. No nasties, no nutrient-depleted fillers, just Au Natural Skinfood.
Tracy – Founder
- Skin Absorption and Natural Skincare Products: With regards to molecule size and depth of absorption e.g. https://www.essentially-yours.co.uk/blog/why-we-are-different-to-any-other-skincare-brand-/.
- The chemistry of cosmetics by Dr. Oliver Jones, & Prof. Ben Selinger, AM, at https://www.science.org.au/curious/people-medicine/chemistry-cosmetics.
- Milady Skin care and the cosmetic ingredients dictionary 4th edn (2014), by M. Varinia Michalun & Joseph C. Dinardo.